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Today, I want to share with you what I’ve learned (and experienced myself) about Near-Death Experiences (NDEs), which profoundly change our understanding of life and death. It’s a fascinating field, well worth our time, and it can teach us a great deal about living.
I’ve lived through two Near-Death Experiences myself due to my life-long fascination with high-risk sports. After an NDE, nothing is ever perceived by the mind quite the same again. The paradigm shift following an NDE is so dramatic that even atheists have become believers in a future existence after death filled with love and light; an existence where there is no space left to entertain any of the lower emotions and opinions that confound and irritate us on this side of eternity.
Although no two NDEs are identical, the vast majority consist of the sensation of being surrounded — or flooded internally — by a bright light, levitation from the surface you are on (with an ability to watch first responders doing everything they can to “bring you back” initially, or subsequently), and sights and sounds that are reassuring, calming, and filled with a palpable sense of lovingkindness.
On far rarer occasions, NDEs carry the unlucky guy or gal to a dystopian nightmare and back. Again, these occur only rarely, the ecstatic versions of NDEs are more common. It appears that NDEs can be influenced by your religious upbringing and your take on whether the Creator is benevolent and forgiving or, not so much. But even some’s strict authoritarian beliefs about the Creator have been extinguished entirely during ecstatic NDEs.
The subject is endlessly fascinating, especially for those of us who have experienced an NDE!
My first Near-Death Experience happened when I was a student in law school on my very first date with Eric, who was so exciting, I soon married him, and am still married to him to this day! He was a mountain climbing guide from Chamonix and in the French Special Forces, and he wanted to take me on my very first climb, even though it was February, which, I learned later, is an inauspicious time to go mountain climbing. He outfitted me in heavy climbing boots, a winter coat, and a 165-foot rope that he tied on my back. Being French, he drove like a madman up to winter snows high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and parked next to the Cosumnes River—an awesome sight as it frothed and foamed like a wild animal.
Eric started hiking very rapidly up the trail along the river and I valiantly did my best to follow. I didn’t want to tell him I didn’t have any wilderness experience and I wasn’t exactly physically fit back then, I was more of a bookworm; my obsession with mountain climbing, ski racing, and all things outdoors and dangerous came later, thanks to him. The one sport I had mastered, however, was swimming, and as I hurried alongside this mighty river, I could clearly see that it wasn’t swimmable. As we got further up the trail, the river completely disappeared under granite, sometimes for hundreds of feet, before it would reappear downstream. We passed a good-sized waterfall. At one point, Eric must have decided to cross the river as, up ahead, I could see him running across the granite. Trying to keep him in sight, I too ran across the granite but as I crossed the wet rocks, I slipped and slid into a small pothole. For a moment, my shoulders caught and I thought I was safe, but a second later, the massive current of the river pulled me under.
I was sure I was a goner as I was tossed about like a ragdoll in the underground river. I saw submerged trees and giant boulders all around me. I tried desperately to untie the climbing rope that was strapped to my back, knowing that it would catch on a limb or a rock, but it was hopeless in the freezing cold water and strong current, half the time I was upside down. I soon ran out of air and started to take in water when suddenly my extreme panic shifted to an incredible state of calm. Despite the icy water, I started to feel warm and peaceful. With quite a bit of detachment, I saw the highlights of my short life pass before me. I felt tremendous empathy for my parents and my brother, and regretted my previous unenlightened view of things. Then I heard a voice—it felt like it came from both within and without—saying, “Go back, you still have a lot to do.” I suddenly popped up into a pool just above the big waterfall. I managed to scream, and a couple of nearby climbers threw me a rope and pulled me to shore just before I went over the edge of the waterfall. Meanwhile, Eric was upstream and unable to see me, was wondering what had happened to his date and what in the world he would have to tell my mother!
In the weeks and months that followed, I noticed that life looked different somehow. I felt a lot more love for myself and for everyone I met, and I had a clearer sense of my true purpose. It wasn’t until some years later that I realized I’d had a Near-Death Experience.
With NDEs, we want to understand how something that is initially traumatic — a sensing of our own imminent demise — can resolve into the confirmation that there is no actual death, merely a transformation to something bigger and better than what we experience here far too often on earth: discord, disease, politics, pollution and – well, you fill in the blank!
Pre-COVID, more than 13 million Americans are believed to have had Near-Death Experiences. And the number of NDEs has escalated exponentially since the frequent use of cardiac defibrillators came on the scene during the pandemic. But other things besides heart attacks can trigger NDEs: rapid blood loss, electrocution, near drownings, traumatic injuries, and suicide attempts.
Most often during an NDE, individuals feel detached from their bodies and serenity, security, and warmth replace their fear of death. A life review may take place, and there is frequently a sensation of being inside a tunnel that is transporting you to a light or to beings of light. At the tail end of an NDE, the experiencer is told to return, or decides to return, to their life on Earth. The process is the same across the globe, except that the light beings one encounters are the ones associated with the individual’s specific culture and upbringing.
For those who experience a life review, incidents from their time on earth flash before them as if on a TV or video screen, complete with emotions, especially regrets for moments when their actions or the lack of appropriate actions caused someone else to suffer physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Some NDE experiencers meet a Being of Light, an inner guide, or a deceased loved one who kindly sends them back toward a life they’re perfectly willing to leave, now that they’ve experienced what life is like on the other side of the veil. Then, suddenly, they’ll find themselves back in their body, awestruck by the enormity of their experience and lacking the words to explain the unparalleled adventure they’ve been on.
The fascinating thing about NDEs is the way in which they reveal that consciousness continues even after the heart stops beating and brain activity has flatlined. But far more intriguing is how an NDE changes your life.
Those who return from the dead possess a renewed appreciation for their existence and an intense drive to help others. Many of us suddenly recognize, for the first time, our purpose for being alive, and we embrace the responsibility of becoming a better person and a reliable conveyor of profound wisdom. In a nutshell, an NDE brings with the same experience that people experience when they have a spiritual initiation.
I specialize in helping people have spiritual initiations, which I used to do just in person, but in the past few years, out of necessity, I’ve been doing a lot of them on Zoom. It’s uncanny how much the after-effects of an NDE are the same as an initiation. Maybe I needed to have a couple of NDE’s in order to become a better initiator!
If you take a look at The Tibetan Book of the Dead, you’ll see that the central message that Near-Death Experiencers bring back from their encounter with death is the same as that of Buddha and the bardo teachings: that the essential and most important qualities in life are love, compassion, and wisdom. In this respect, both the NDE’ers and the Tibetan Book of the Dead seem to focus not on death, but on life — on how we live our lives.
According to current research, the rate for NDEs among those who have survived a close brush with death is around 20%. That’s a very high number for shared experiences. Many experiencers of NDEs say that during the event, they felt “one” with the universe, and that they intuitively understood the “why” and the “how” of everything in it. There was no separation between them and everything else. They had a spirit body, but it didn’t appear to have a defined shape since it seemed infused into everything else.
There was a palpable sense of peace, presence, compassion, and lovingkindness. Their lower emotions were completely gone. There was no ego to sabotage them into delusion of their separation from others.
There were dead relatives in some cases, some of whom had passed before they were born, or beings of light. All communication was telepathic; knowing what was in their minds was as easy as knowing what was in your own.
Many met beloved pets who had passed away before their NDE. And not infrequently, they met their pets before they encountered people. What does that tell us about our pets!
There appeared to be no space or time but, upon returning to their bodies after their NDEs, many felt they had been away for hours, days, months, and sometimes even years, so profound had been their leave-taking.
They all agree that “dying is easy.” No matter how traumatic the experience that delivered their NDE, the moment they “died”, they were released from the trauma or pain, and they floated blissfully free of the fear or anxiety they’d experienced just milliseconds before. It is for this reason that most NDE’ers say they no longer have any fear of death.
I am firmly convinced — after having personally experienced two NDEs — that they are as real (if not more real!) than the lives we’re living right now. They appear to expand the human mind in ways that spirit-led sages have, for years, called “enlightenment” or ultimate wisdom. But instead of taking decades (or a lifetime) to become enlightened, a NDE serves as a rocket ship to the splendor of embracing our existence as the treasure and opportunity it is to become all that our hearts, minds, and souls are capable of.
There are, thankfully, a variety of ways to gain the same appreciation for life, love, compassion, and wisdom other than going through a near-death experience — among them meditation and doing the sutras that I teach. By the way, I am currently teaching this over at Shift Network, this week and for the next few weeks). Come join me there to get on the fast track to spiritual development.
Even the simple act of witnessing the wonder and excitement of a child as they encounter their first vein-lined leaf, green tree frog, or caterpillar turning into a butterfly, and spend long moments hunkered down examining the phenomenon, like a wee scientist completely immersed in their moment of discovery, offers a window to the adult watching this all unfold.
In fact, striving to regain our child’s-eye view of a world that we have somehow learned to take for granted is a great starting point for enlightenment! The opportunities, from that vantage point, are literally everywhere you look.
My second NDE, again with Eric (hmmm…I should have seen a pattern there with Eric, mountains, and accidents), occurred as I was mountain climbing, in the French alps, and a rock the size of a Volkswagen came careening down from above.
As it headed right toward me, panic stricken, I leapt off the cliff, 3,000 feet up, hoping the climbing rope I was on wouldn’t get cut by the rock and that it would hold my fall. Those climbing ropes, by the way, are actually pretty theoretical, they often don’t work as intended.
I looked down and noticed that my pant leg looked oddly empty, and with a weird sense of detachment noted that my leg muscles had simply been destroyed when the rock hit. Then I must have fainted as I swung out over the abyss, suspended by the rope that should have been cut by the rock fall, but miraculously wasn’t.
But in that instant when the near disaster happened, everything seemed to slow down for me – the boulder seemed to fall very slowly, and I felt almost nothing (until later!) as it crushed my knee on its way past.
But there, swinging out into space, for just a moment, I felt completely at peace. I just knew that everything was unfolding as it should, in super slow motion so I could appreciate and remember all of it. Once we got to the top of the peak, which I managed by pulling myself up, arm over arm, we could see the ominous weather coming in from the other side, and within a few minutes, we had lightening striking all around us, lighting up the rack of metal climbing gear I had over my shoulder and the ice ax I had in my hand.
Just a tip: it’s always harder to descend a mountain than climb up it.
In this case, it took over 24 very exhilarating and exhaustive hours, as, arm over arm, I managed to get back down to the bottom. I had plenty of time as I languished in a French hospital the rest of the summer to revisit this most recent NDE in my mind, and glean from it the increase in spiritual wisdom I so craved.
During both of my NDEs, I just felt intuitively that the end of my life during this incarnation wasn’t going to reach its conclusion. I had some inner or external guidance gently reaffirming, “It isn’t your time yet. You haven’t completed your assignment here.”
I hope this information on near-death experiences reassures you that death is a fantastic doorway, not a final destination for any of us.
Although what lies beyond remains largely a mystery, the vast majority of NDEs suggest that whatever we’ve learned during this life that makes us fear death is based on misinformation or outright disinformation from authority figures.
Speculation is nearly always fear-based because we all have a primitive fear center called the amygdala in our brain that shrieks “Red Alert!” whenever we speculate about potential outcomes. Somehow, a NDE either bypasses or overrides the amygdala and shows us there is nothing to lose and much to gain as our present lives seem to be coming to a close.
Fortunately, you really don’t have to get close to death to experience the light. Each tradition has “enlightenment stories” from their masters. If you are searching for the perfect master to guide you through to enlightenment, you might consider the story of the great Sufi mystic, Hasan. When he was dying, somebody asked, “Hasan, who was your master?” He said, “I had thousands of masters.
One was a thief. Once I got lost in the desert, and when I reached a village, it was very late, everything was closed. But at last, I found one man who was trying to break into a house. I asked him where I could stay and he said, ‘At this time of night it will be difficult, but you can say with me — if you can stay with a thief.’ And the man was so beautiful, I stayed for a month! And each night he would say to me, ‘Now I am going to my work. You rest, you pray.’ When he came back, I would ask, ‘Did you find anything to steal?’ He would say, ‘Not tonight. But tomorrow I will try again, God willing.’ He was never in a state of hopelessness, he was always happy.
When I was meditating and meditating for years on end and nothing was happening, many times the moment came when I was so desperate, so hopeless, that I thought to stop all this nonsense. And suddenly, I would remember the thief who would say every night, ‘God willing, tomorrow it is going to happen.’
And my second master was a dog. I was going to the river to get a drink of water and a dog came. He was also thirsty. He looked into the river, he saw another dog there —his own image — and became afraid. He would bark and run away, but his thirst was so much that he would come back. Finally, despite his fear, he just jumped into the water and the image disappeared. And I knew that a message had come to me from God: we have to jump in, in spite of all fears.
And the third master was a small child. I entered a town and a child was carrying a lit candle. He was going to the mosque to put the candle there. Joking around, I asked the boy, ‘Have you lit the candle yourself?’ He said, ‘Yes sir.’ And I asked, ‘There was a moment when the candle was unlit, then there was a moment when the candle was lit. Can you show me the source from which the light came?’ And the boy laughed, blew out the candle, and said, ‘You have seen the light go. Can you tell me where it has gone? If you can tell me where it has gone, I will tell you where it came from, because it has gone to the same place. It has returned to the source.’ My ego was shattered, my whole knowledge was shattered. Since then, I dropped all my need to be knowledgeable.
It is true that I had no master. That does not mean that I was not a disciple — I accepted the whole of existence as my master.
I trusted the clouds, the trees. I trusted existence as such. I had no master because I had millions of masters. I learned from every possible source. To be a disciple is a must on the path. What does it mean to be a disciple? It means to be able to learn, to be available to learn, to be vulnerable to existence. With a master you start learning to learn. The master is a swimming pool where you can learn how to swim. Once you have learned, all the oceans are yours.
Right now, I am teaching a course at The Shift Network: you can join here and this course will reveal to you how you can uncover a whole new source of guidance that isn’t readily available to us here in this realm. You can learn from Ascended Masters, Angels and Divine Figures, Ancestral Guides, and more. This allows you to tap into the wisdom a Near-Death Experience can offer without having an NDE! If you’re interested, click here to register.